A Day in the Life of a Private Investigator

A Day in the Life of a Private Investigator

PI’s — they’ve been featured in countless books, movies, and TV shows for the past hundreds of years. The hardboiled crime genre is one of the most popular genres in American media, and it’s no wonder why; fictional investigators walk between the world of our everyday lives and the seedy underbellies we take for granted.

But what does a private investigator do in real life?

If you’re hiring a PI, you most likely don’t want some rugged investigator with a scraggly beard who’s hellbent on revenge. Considering how a lot of those stories end, that’s for the best. Private investigators search for clues and gather information for their clients.

But don’t worry, it’s not like the movies in real life. PI’s are individuals like you and me, who are specially trained to help you out in difficult situations. This article will walk you through all you need to know about a day in the life of a PI.

Irregular Hours

The first thing to know about private investigators is that they don’t work a normal 9-5 schedule. The case dictates the speed and hours at which they work. They can spend several days up all night doing hard surveillance work, and several days with little to do.

The Exception 

There are some private investigators who work more normal hours, however. This is called “desk investigation”. They work more standard hours from an office, and usually do cyber-investigations, background investigations, or missing person cases.


Believe it or not, driving a car is the main component of most private investigator jobs. Investigators have to travel often to meet clients or follow suspects, so part of the burden of the job is being on the road. Any hours they have to work are compounded by the amount of time they spent getting wherever they needed to go, and getting home.

Getting Out On Foot

Oftentimes, PI’s have to get out on foot and follow their targets at a moment’s notice. They’re trained to do this without letting the target know. This is usually where they take videos of the targets for the client.

Getting Back On The Road 

If the target hops back in their car, the PI will also, and continue following. PI’s are trained in several different types of driving, constantly monitoring their safety and what they need to accomplish to stay on the target.

Driving is not only one of the most prominent components of a PI’s job time-wise, but also skill-wise. Following a person through difficult, dangerous situations, while remaining safe and undetected, over the course of several days, running low on sleep is no easy feat, and most civilians who try it will end up hurting themselves.

Despite what you might think from the movies, driving is one of the most dangerous parts of a PI’s job. 1.35 million people die in car crashes every year. Of course, being a good driver mitigates the risk, but considering the number of inexperienced drivers, elderly drivers, drunk drivers, and freak accidents, the only way to really reduce your risk of winding up in a car crash is to drive less — which is something that PI’s cannot do.


The other big part of a PI’s job is surveillance. This can be done while in the car, on foot, or from a static position.

A client expects high-quality video and sound from a PI. The PI not only has to film the target without being noticed but has to do it in a way where it comes out intelligible. This means their equipment must constantly be up to date.

The main point of surveillance is to collect intelligence and evidence. Intelligence is a piece of cold, hard, objective information, that the client and PI can interpret however they will. Evidence is a specific type of intelligence that furnishes proof.

Usually, several pieces of intelligence need to be put together to form evidence. This is where a PI’s job is somewhat like the movies — they often have to follow one lead into the next, like a trail of breadcrumbs.

As opposed to the action-packed detective stories of Hollywood, PI’s jobs are oftentimes more about following and listening, conducting interviews, and shaking up situations to let certain pieces of information fall out.


Though the world of PI investigation isn’t quite the same as it is in the movies, sometimes PI’s do have to deal with known criminals. Thankfully, the PI’s skills in surveillance, avoidance, discretion, and driving usually keep them safe.


PI’s need a certain amount of experience to get their private investigation license. Usually, they need to be of a certain age, have worked time in a detective agency or law enforcement agency, and not be convinced of any serious crimes.

There are even courses out there that PI’s can take, and non-fiction book resources to help them out. Just like doctors, lawyers, and college professors, PI’s are highly trained individuals who know how to get their jobs done.

Why People Hire PI’s 

People normally hire PI’s to look into the whereabouts of a person, see if someone has been deceitful, locate/recover stolen property, and help in research a crime/wrongdoing. Essentially, in any situation where a person needs to obtain some intelligence that’s being kept from them, hiring a PI is a good option.

If you find yourself in a situation where you think a PI would benefit you, check out this resource on why you should hire a private investigator by Flatirons Private Investigation.

Private Investigator Is A Job  

Various forms of media have elevated the status of the PI to that held by cowboys and superheroes — an archetypal staple. But as you can see, it’s a specialized form of work similar to police work.

Hiring a private investigator doesn’t mean you’re turning your life into a movie. It could be a great option for you if you want to turn some intelligence into evidence.

For more articles like this, check out our section on entertainment!

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